Guide to New Zealand Pinot Noir
The land known for its vibrant Sauvignon Blanc has a trick under its sleeve: silky, elegant Pinot Noir grown and produced throughout several of its major wine regions. Are you familiar with the second-most-planted grape in New Zealand?
History of Pinot Noir in New Zealand
As an island, New Zealand has always been subjected to strict agricultural regulations. This has made it difficult to bring in clones of wines not native to the area, which has left winemakers’ options limited when it comes to their plantings and production variety.
Such restrictions fueled one very brave rugby player’s attempt to smuggle a cutting into New Zealand. The player placed a cutting (which was from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s famed La Tâche vineyard) in his boot as he passed through customs. The cutting was ultimately confiscated by a customs official and sent to quarantine. Once out of quarantine, the grape made its way to the country’s vineyards, where it now makes up roughly 14,000 planted acres.
Pinot Noir Producing Regions in New Zealand
Today, Pinot Noir is produced throughout New Zealand, and is most commonly grown in the cooler regions of the south (Canterbury and Waipara, Central Otago, Marlborough, Nelson, and Wairarapa). Within these regions is an impressive diversity of climates and soils, which allows each Pinot Noir to be an expression of the land.
New Zealand Pinot Noir Flavor Profile
Regardless of the specific terroir from which it comes, New Zealand Pinot Noir has some staple characteristics: fruit-forwardness with structure, richness, and elegance.
Wairarapa wines are known for being complex and earthy: the wines tend to have notes of forest floor and more savory aromas. Nelson is known for its fragrant wines that are concentrated, yet balanced.
Waipara and North Canterbury have the same savory and earthy flavors, but with a little more spice. It is common to find hints of dark plum and even chocolate in the Pinot Noir from this region.
Central Otago, on the other hand, produces wines with more cherry and plum notes. Raspberry, strawberry, and herb notes are also common in its wines (particularly in Alexandra, where the Pinots are known for their notes of thyme).
Marlborough is currently experiencing success with its wines, which grow on the region’s hillsides and cooler valleys. Marlborough Pinots are fresh and elegant and exude bright acidity and notes of cherry, raspberry, and plum. Of all the regions, Marlborough is currently producing Pinot Noir with the best structure and tannic backbone.